LIBERAL — In recent seasons, some of the best games played by the Garden City Buffaloes boys basketball team has come in Liberal’s Big House.
All are hard-fought and closely-contested — some going to overtime — and most of the time the Buffs came out on top.
Tuesday night, however, the Buffs played one of their worst games of the season, yet still somehow managed to escape with another important win over the Redskins, this one a 50-46 survival in which both teams seemingly wanted to play giveaway.
The Buffs did shoot the ball well, but with 21 turnovers, they didn’t get many opportunities.
With Carlos Acosta perhaps playing the “Saving Grace” for the Buffs with 17 points off 6-of-8 field goals and 2-of-2 free throws, the Buffs finished hitting 17 of 29 for 58.6 percent.
“I was able to get a little hot, and credit to my teammates for getting me good looks,” said Acosta, who had 14 of those points in the third quarter, in which the Buffs outscored Liberal 14-6 to go from down 25-19 to up 33-31 heading to the fourth. “Honestly, we win as a team, and I think we were able to do a better job on defense in the fourth quarter and communicated better.”
Buffs coach Jacy Holloway echoed Acosta’s comments about the fourth quarter, in which the Buffs cut down their turnovers to just four and were able to knock down some tough shots.
“Limiting the turnovers was big, the rebounding was better (26-18 for the game) and we made some free throws down the stretch (4 of last 5 after missing 5 of previous 7)," Holloway said.
All in all, the struggle to find some way to win was all that matters.
Now 12-8, the Buffs appear to have a No. 5 seed in the works for sub-state, guaranteeing them a home game on Feb. 28. By virtue of the win, the Buffs also finish the WAC race at 6-2 in sole possession of second place behind Hays, the only two losses the Buffs suffered in league play.
After Acosta’s game-high 17, he was joined in double figures by Kyler Lamb, who finished with 10 off 3-of-6 shooting at both the line and from the field.
Demarcus Elliott grabbed a game-high eight rebounds to help the Buffs win that battle.
Liberal got 11 points from Cameron Riley while Lee Hatcher had five boards for the Redskins.
Had it not been for the hot shooting of the Buffs, they may well have gone into the postseason on a downer after having lost another heartbreaker on Friday at Hays, 52-50.
“It feels good, but it also feels like a big relief,” Acosta said. “Trying to score, it just felt like it was really hard.”
Once he hit his first shot of the third, everything just fell into place for the sophomore guard.
“I had a lot of open looks and started to find a little rhythm,” Acosta said.
Holloway said the Buffs’ struggles kept Liberal in the game, and then at the end the free throws allowed them to clinch the victory.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen the guys play this way ever in a game, or even in a practice,” Holloway said of the team’s early turnover struggles. “We’ve played pretty well down here in the past. I think maybe the Hays game wore us out, and we’re not as deep as we were earlier.”
It was the second consecutive game that the Buffs have been without 6-3 junior Tye Davis, who was suspended for Friday’s road loss at Hays and for Tuesday’s match-up for an unspecified violation of school policy, according to both head coach Jacy Holloway and athletic director Drew Thon.
When the Buffs torched the Redskins on Jan. 9 in Garden City, 54-38, then top sub Derrick Sexton had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The next day, he was moving to North Carolina with his mother where she took a new job.
The Buffs’ rotation hasn’t been the same since.
“We’re only going seven deep and everybody’s playing more minutes,” Holloway said.
Acosta said the lineup changes have made matchups that more difficult.
“We’re not getting really good matchups for us on defense, because we’re giving up size,” Acosta said. “We’re just all trying to do our best, so just being able to come out with a win feels really good.”
The Buffs got off to a strong start at the outset, jumping out to an 11-4 lead.
Then, Liberal grabbed the momentum, finishing the opening quarter on a 7-2 mini-spurt to make it 13-11 at the first break.
The Redskins owned the second quarter, thanks in part to some sloppy play by the Buffs, who committed eight turnovers in the period and finished the first half with an unsightly 13 miscues.
That allowed the Redskins to warm up from the field, outscoring the Buffs 14-6 to grab a 25-19 halftime advantage.
While the Buffs will await their first round Class 6A sub-state foe which will be played next week, the Redskins head to Dodge City for a Thursday night battle with the Red Demons to close out their regular season.
Final regular season games for the 16 teams in 6A West won’t conclude until Friday, so official brackets will be unveiled on Saturday morning.
Contact Brett Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org